Nurmagomedov announced he was out of UFC 249 on Wednesday night, as he outlined his struggle to prepare for a fight with no confirmed venue during a global pandemic that has left even the most ardent of fans baffled by UFC president Dana White’s insistence that the event will go ahead.
Now the lightweight champion has revealed more about the complicated, globe-trotting timeline of events that forced his decision.
Speaking from a gym in a live Instagram interview with filmmaker Will Harris, Khabib explained: “Everyone was saying please, everyone, stay home because people are dying,” before recapping a turbulent month in which he left his San Jose training base, landed in Dubai in anticipation of a fight in the Middle East, and narrowly managed to return to Dagestan to continue his training camp as “the gates closed” on the airports of the world.
“UFC spent almost a month trying to find a location. Is that my mistake? My name is Khabib, I am not coronavirus.
“I have trained very hard since December. I went to the US, trained for 40 days, then when everything went crazy they said 100% there would be no fight in the US.
“A couple of guys were training with me but a month before the fight I asked the UFC where we were going to fight. ‘The US, Middle East, Russia? Please, tell me.’
“We [tried to] move to Dubai 20 days before the fight because they told me 99% it would be in Abu Dhabi. I said OK, no problem.
“Every day I was training and waiting for a location but they didn’t send it to me. All the gates were closed.
“Then I said, ‘OK, whatever happens we would go to Dagestan and keep training.’ Everyone was quarantined – all the governments, celebrities, even Dana and his household, the president, famous people.
“The number one thing that makes me go crazy is when people say I was pulling out. We couldn’t [move] because they closed the gates, but it’s not my problem. I didn’t make a mistake.”
Nurmagomedov is realistic about the uncertainty of arranging events during an indefinite global health crisis, but says the UFC is working on shows in San Francisco in August and Abu Dhabi in mid-September.
“Maybe in August, everything will be finished,” he pondered. “But nobody knows when this thing is going to be down – it could be April, May. There are too many questions but right now it is time to stay healthy and take care of yourself.”
The barbs of Ferguson, who had suggested on Twitter that a venue had been offered to Nurmagomedov and accused his opponent of “hiding in Russia”, have left the champion unimpressed. So too have the words of critics looking to blame him for the likely postponement of the fight.
“Don’t talk sh*t about me,” he warned the American. “Worry about you. Everybody sits at home and tries to put pressure on someone because they are bored.
“The Olympic Games, the European Championships, everything is closed. The number one thing, right now, is that thousands of people are dying every day. The world is closed. I cannot go to a city 45 minutes away.”
Despite dropping the far-fetched plan to fight this month, Nurmagomedov’s presence at a training base was indicative of his relentless enthusiasm for work.
“I am training every day in my gym,” he confirmed. “I never stop.
“My family is good, everybody is safe but yesterday and today everything has started to go crazy in Dagestan and Russia. Everything in Dagestan has gone crazy.”